Saturday, August 25, 2012


Regarding the shooting in Manhattan yesterday, Gail Collins is right:
Nine passers-by were also wounded, and it seems almost certain that some or all were accidentally hit by the police. This isn't surprising; it's only in movies that people are good shots during a violent encounter. In 2008, Al Baker reported in The Times that the accuracy rate for New York City officers firing in the line of duty was 34 percent.

And these are people trained for this kind of crisis. The moral is that if a lunatic starts shooting, you will not be made safer if your fellow average citizens are carrying concealed weapons.

This is not the accepted wisdom in many parts of the country. (Certainly not in Congress, where safety was cited as a rationale for letting vacationers take loaded pistols into federal parks.) Shortly after the mass murder at the movie theater in Colorado, I was waiting for a plane at a tiny airport in North Dakota, listening to a group of oil rig workers discuss how many lives would have been saved if only the other theater patrons had been armed. "They could have nipped it in the bud," one man told another confidently.

People, try to imagine what would have happened if, instead of diving for the floor, a bunch of those moviegoers had stood up and started shooting into the dark. Or ask a cop.

We are never going to have a sane national policy on guns until the gun advocates give up on the fantasy that the best protection against armed psychopaths bent on random violence is regular people with loaded pistols on their belts.
But, of course, when I was looking at right-wing comments sections and message boards yesterday after the shooting, quite a few folks were having that precise fantasy. And they were having it not in spite of the fact that trained police officers have trouble with accuracy in situations like this, but because the cops' shots missed the mark.

The one-sentence version of the overarching gunner myth is: The police can't help you, so you have to defend yourself. When the Manhattan shooting happened, that got translated to: The cops are lousy shots, but if there'd been a well-trained True Patriot on the scene, his aim would have been true.

This is, of course, insane. It's a testament to the Walter Mitty nature of the gunners' worldview -- they all think they'd be heroes, pure in heart and flawless in execution, under conditions like this. They're eleven-year-old boys in the bodies of adults.

Now, of course, I could be wrong. It's theoretically possible that, on average, well-trained True Patriots would incapacitate the bad guys and spare the innocents more effectively than trained police officers. (It's also theoretically possible that Roseanne Barr will win the presidential election in every state where she's on the ballot.)

I fear we're going to be testing this premise empirically in America in the near future. I really believe that the gun lobby's next front is going to be challenging the right of business owners to deny entry to people carrying concealed weapons.

I think either they're going to press for laws denying business owners the options of refusing entry to the strapped or, if that conflicts with their beliefs about the sanctity of private property, they're going to boycott businesses that deny entry to people who are packing, and treat businesses that welcome the armed the way right-wingers now treat Chick-fil-A.

Eventually, businesses won't dare to ban armed patrons, either because they won't be allowed to do so by law in red states or because the dropoff in customers will be too great.

And then we'll get plenty of opportunities to test the armed-civilian hypothesis in shootouts.

Gosh, I can't wait.


Jim Smith II said...

I fear what it's going to take is for some sort of "reverse" Empire State Building situation - There will be a shooting and some in the crowd *will* have weapons and multiple innocents will be shot.

I fear that it's the only way to stop this nonsense belief that because you've had training handling a gun (which I have) you'd be able to handle yourself in a combat situation (which I've been trained for and was lucky to hit 25% of what I was shooting at).

The New York Crank said...

Thanks, Jim Smith. I will chime in on this, too, since I also have been professionally weapons-trained with the following weapons:

• M- 1 Garand rifle
• 30 caliber Browning machine gun
• And, because as a U.S. infantry machine gunner I had to carry a sidearm, I was also trained to use a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol.

So, let me apply my expert testimony to this matter:

Assuming most people would find it inconvenient to walk into a movie theater with a heavy, tripod-mounted machine gun, several 20-or-so pound boxes of ammo links, and the two other crew members that correct use of this weapon requires and...

...assuming most people don't want to go to the movies schlepping a semi-automatic M-1 rifle with a 7-shot clip because where the hell do you put it when you sit down....?'re left with the Colt .45 automatic. Let me tell you how damn inaccurate that weapon is.

After a fair amount of practice,l I was sent to the pistol range at Fort Dix to qualify. Out of – I think it was nine shot – I actually had the target three times. The colonel standing about eight feet to my right was furious, because the target I hit three times was his.

The general consensus among the troops who carried that weapon, and the sergeants who trained us on it was that, if it were actually necessary to attempt wounding or killing an enemy with a Colt .45, the best way to do that would be to throw the damn thing at him.

Which leads me to suggest a compromise position with the NRA: suppose we don't go for people armed with pistols in movie theaters, but we do allow every patriot attending a flic to carry with him up to ten rocks?

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Victor said...

Well, in all fairness, one of those "patriots" might do a better job than a police officer or two.

Now, in all honesty, I've never fired anything but a Revolutionary War musket when I went skeet-shooting with some customers of mine at the bar I was working at, who were recreaters - one acting at being a Minuteman, the other being an Iroquois warrior on the British side.

Police officers, as far as I've read, are trained to hold fire and consider the circumstances before shooting their weapon.
Is the perp clearly visible and isolated?
What's in the way?
If it's people, how do you get around them, if that's what you need to do?
And if not, what do you do?

Cops are trained to deal with a lot of data and input, before making their decision. All to be done ASAP - in miliseconds, if possible.

The schmuck who's thinks he's a real patriot, doesn't give a sh*t about anything but being a hero, and his own hide.

If he can get a clear shot at who he thinks the gunmans is by shielding himself with a little old lady, and cleaves a little boy's skull with a bullet that then hits the gunman, what does he care?

The NRA, talk radio, and FOX will make him a hero, and help pay for his legal costs.

And yeah, they'll say, the old lady took the bullet aimed at him, and he killed the kid - but think of all of the dead if this "patriot" DIDN'T decide to fire back!

Too bad there's no trial for the hero, because the guy 5 rows behind him, thought he was with the gunman, grabbed his own little old lady, and shot throught the skull of another child, to kill the guy who killed the gunman, by killing the child in his way, and caused the old lady to die when she took the bullet meant for him from the original gunman.

These things can get complicated.

But rest assured, the NRA will be there to pay the court costs of any of these, their customers.


boba said...

Without defending the gun-nuts, the NYPD has a well deserved reputation of being a bit trigger happy, e.g., Sean Bell. In this instance the assailant fired one (1) round at the police who returned fire with 16 of their own. This is not to say a gun-nut would do better, I am saying the NYPD protocol for discharging their weapons needs to be examined.

: smintheus :: said...

If people in the streets had been carrying concealed weapons, then the gun battle that would have erupted from every side would be raging still, a day later.

Improbable Joe said...

I'm one of the trained marksmen with military experience with weapons more accurate than what The New York Crank trained with. I even did some marksmanship coaching in the Marines because I was pretty good with various firearms, so maybe I'm a little better than Jim Smith... and even so I can't say with any certainty that I could hit a target that is shooting back at me and not hit any bystanders. I doubt anyone could do better than 90% without daily training in as close to combat situations as possible, and no one is getting that sort of training. and 90% is 10% short of acceptable shooting on a crowded street, period.